A high chiefs-to-Indians ratio

The lure of blue blood is a perennial hazard in genealogy, and by no means confined to Ireland. Witness the “Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in the United States Of America” (charlemagne.org) or indeed the Confucius Genealogy, claiming to go back more than 2,500 years and supposedly listing more than two million of his living descendants.


The basic mechanism is simple: someone looks into their heart and sees innate nobility, then looks around at their daily life and sees very little nobility indeed. The mismatch can only be accounted for by a mistake, a forgotten blood link to the truly noble. For most people, this is just a grown-up version of an eight-year-old girl’s Princess fantasy, but it can still be powerful enough to warp all logic and common sense.

In Ireland, the affliction usually involves a half-remembered family tradition – “my granduncle’s brother-in-law’s neighbour told me .” – or simple geographical proximity. Your ancestors were called Kelly, and came from South Roscommon, so they must be descended from the O’Kellys of Uí Máine. If you can just stretch your own family history back five generations and stretch the O’Kellys forward another five … Dealing with stuff like this sets any experienced researcher’s hair on end: you just can’t know the answer before you start the research.

O’Kelly of Uí Máine

A classic jibe of Victorian Ireland against the Gael was that every dirt-poor Irish tenant claimed to be a descendant of the old Gaelic aristocracy. The irony is that
there was probably more truth to the claim than Victorian superciliousness could allow. Medieval Ireland had an extremely high chiefs-to-Indians ratio, so there were enough nobles to guarantee that pretty much everyone had (and has) kings and princes in their family tree. It’s just impossible to prove. That warm glow of innate nobility will have to suffice.

And don’t forget that the tree still has a lot more Indians than chiefs.

4 thoughts on “A high chiefs-to-Indians ratio”

  1. As a direct descendant of Brian Boru I am irritated on a regular basis by shams claiming family connections.

    Another photographer with ancient lineage is
    Jarl Alexandre Alé de Basseville, descendant of the 1st king Harald of Norway, was born in Bordeaux on July 8th, 1970, land of Aliénor of Aquitaine. He is one of the last direct descendants of the lineage of Viking and Norman kings.

    His other claim to greatness is that he was the photographer who took the nudie pics of Melania Trump. Nobility attracts nobility.

  2. So true! I am pleased to say my people were nobodies. The American version or this is the native American princess

    Although my 20th great grandmother was Anne, sister of Richard III , considering I probably have over 4000000 ancestors in that generation it hardly counts for much!

  3. OK, your ‘basic mechanism’ sentence made me laugh out loud. But you can’t be logical with these people as I have found. Their origin stories are more important to them than any records. If it makes them happy, who am I as a friend or relative to burst their bubble? Tho I bite my tongue a lot.

  4. Although my material line comes from England, my maternal line is Scotch-Irish and I spend more time following those who came from Ireland. BUT I have no fear in finding ‘royalty’ in my tree as I possess it in my name !! How great to save me all that looking.

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